a blade of grass

… he told me that perfection could be learned from nature. be more humble than a blade of grass; more tolerant than a tree. give respect to others freely, without expectation or motive. in such a state of mind, stripped bare of your false pretenses, call out to your Lord eternally.

i’m still working on it …


VJOTW Classics

Haribol and Happy April Fool's Day!

The other day, a dear friend and godbrother (who also happens to be an executive at one of the largest corporations in the world -- I'm not one to drop names, but "don't leave home without it" if you catch my meaning) called me (from work!) just to tell me that he misses reading my "Vaisnava Joke of the Week" -- a bit of Hare Krishna humor I used to send out to friends and family over email. He asked if I could start sending them out again.

Humor can be tricky, and religious humor even trickier. The VJOTW was always meant to be in good fun, but it did raise an eyebrow or two.

Still, many readers enjoyed it -- and hearing Gauravani recite one of my original VJOTWs from stage at Kuli Mela in New Vrindaban was about as great a reward as one could hope for in the "corny devotee jokes" department.

So, anyway, in honor of April Fool's Day, I thought I'd share some of the classic VJOTW. I'm cutting and pasting, so sorry for the formatting. Anyway, enjoy!

Be warned: you can stop reading... right ... now.


Meeting With the Board
After delivering a long, dry Bhagavatam lecture, the
Temple President announced that he wished to meet with
the temple board after the program, in his office. He
returned to the office to find that the first person
to arrive was an older Indian man, whom he didn't

“Pardon me, Prabhuji," the President said, "I think
you misunderstood my announcement. This is a meeting
of the board.”

“I know,” said the man. “If there is anyone here more
bored than I am, I’d like to meet him.”

Yamaraja's Gain is Indra's Loss

An engineer died and ended up in the Hellish Planets.
He was not pleased with the level of comfort there and
began to redesign and build improvements. After
awhile, they had western style toilets that flush, air
conditioning, and escalators. All the Yamaduttas and
residents of Hell grew very fond of him.

One day Indra called Yamaraj and asked, "So, how's it
going down there in Hell?"

Yamaraja replied, "Hey, things are great. We've got
air conditioning and flush toilets and escalators, and
there's no telling what this engineer is going to come
up with next." Indra was surprised, "What? You've got
an engineer? That's a mistake. He should never have
gotten down there in the first place. Send him up here
to the Heavenly Planets."

"No way," replied Yamaraja. "I like having an
engineer, and I'm keeping him."

Indra threatened, "Send him up here now or I'll sue!"

Yamaraja laughed and answered, "Yeah, right. And just
where are YOU going to get a lawyer?"

Radha Dasi, an ISKCON sunday school teacher, was
teaching a lesson on how Krsna is simultaneously
within everything and distinct from everything.
Concerned that the students (who were between the ages
of 5 and 8) might have a tough time with such an
esoteric subject, Radha tried to get the discussion
rolling by asking the students a question. "Where is
Bhagavan Sri Krsna?" she asked .

Several hands shot up. 8 year old Nitai answered
confidently: "He's in Goloka Vrindaban!"

Priya, a shy 7 year old, timidly raised her hand and
answered, "He's in my heart."

Little Madhava, the smallest boy in the class, was
waving his hand furiously. Finally Radha Mataji
called on him, and excitedly he blurted out, "I know!
I know! He's in our bathroom!"

The whole class got very quiet, looked at Radha
Mataji, and waited for her response. Stunned, she was
completely speechless for a few very long seconds.
Realizing that the children were depending on her, she
finally cleared her throat, adjusted her sari, and --
putting on her most pleasant and calm smile -- asked
Madhava how he knew this.

Little Madhava replied, "Well, every morning before
work my father gets up, bangs on the bathroom door,
and yells: 'Hai Bhagavan, are you still in there?'"

"Bhagavatam Class Break"

A sannyasi, known for his extra lengthy Bhagavatam
classes, was giving a lecture when he noticed a man
get up and leave during the middle of his class. The
man returned just before the conclusion of the class.

Afterward the Swami asked the man where he had gone.

"I went to get a haircut," the man replied.

"Well," said the irritated sannyasi , "why didn't you
think to do that before the Bhagavatam class started?"

"Because," the gentleman said calmly, "I didn't need
one then."

Caitanya dasa Brahmacari patiently saved up to buy a new "bagalbandhi" kurta. He went to the best tailor's shop in Loi Bazaar, full of excitement. The tailor measured him and said, "Come back in a week, and--if Krishna wills--your kurta will be ready."

The brahmacari contained himself for a week and then excitedly went back to the shop. But the tailor shook his head and told Caitanya: "There has been a delay. But--if Krishna wills--your kurta will be ready tomorrow."

The following day Caitanya dasa returned, more hopeful that ever. "So sorry," said the simple tailor, "but it is not quite finished. Try tomorrow, and--if Krishna wills--it will be ready."

Caitanya dasa paused, scratched his chin, and then lowered his voice. "How long will it take," he whispered, "if you just leave Krishna out of it?"

Crossing Over

Three prabhus, Mahabaho dasa, Buddhi Yoga dasa and Jaladutta dasa, were part of a Brahmacari Yatra. They got separated from the rest of the group and ended up in a deep jungle area. After walking for a long time, they finally came to a large, raging river, with a violent current. They needed to get to the other side, but none had any idea of how to do so.

Mahabaho Prabhu prayed to Krsna, saying, "He Bhagavan! You are the strength of the strong. Please give me the strength to cross this river." A voice from above declared "So be it," and ... poof ... Mahabaho had big muscular arms and strong legs. He dove in the river and was able to swim across it in about two hours, although he almost drowned a couple of times.

Seeing this, Jaladutta Prabhu prayed to Krsna, saying, "He Bhagavan! You are like the safest ship to cross over the ocean of birth and death. Please give me the strength and the tools to cross this river." Again,
the voice from above declared "So be it," and ... poof ... Jaladutta had a rowboat and big muscular arms and strong legs. He launched the boat into the water, and used his strong arms to row himself across the river in about an hour, although the winds almost knocked the boat over a couple of times.

Buddhi Yoga Prabhu had seen how this had worked out for his god-brothers, so he also prayed to Krsna saying, "He Bhagavan! You are the intelligence in all living beings. Please give me the strength and the tools, and the intelligence, to cross this river." For a third time,
the voice from above declared "So be it," and ... poof ... Jaladutta was transformed into a woman. She looked at the map, hiked upstream for 10 minutes, and then walked across the bridge.

Box of Ladoos

An older Temple President was searching his closet for his fancy kurta before the program one Sunday afternoon. In the back of the closet, he found a small box he had never seen before, and opened it up. He was surprised to find that it contained three ladoos and 100 $1 bills. He called his wife into the closet and demanded to know why the box with the ladoos was there. Embarrassed, she admitted having hidden the box there for their entire 20 years of marriage. Disappointed and hurt, the TP asked her, "But why? We never keep secrets from one another."

The wife explained to her husband that she had kept the box a secret from him because she didn't want to hurt his feelings. She said that every time during their marriage that he had delivered a bad lecture, she felt that she couldn't tell him her true feelings, so instead she used her energies to make a ladoo and then placed it in the box. The TP thought about it for a moment, and then decided that as weird as it was, no real harm was done. And besides, he thought to himself, three stinky classes in his 20 years of service was certainly nothing to feel bad about.

"That's alright. But then what is the $100 for?" he asked.

"Oh, that," she said smiling, "Each time I got a dozen ladoos, I sold them at the gift shop for $1."


and, of course, probably the most told and re-told Vaisnava joke...

"Phone Calls"

A Vaisnava-Catholic Dialouge was arranged at the
Vatican, and the TP of the Vrindaban ISKCON temple was
invited to attend. The Pope took the TP for a tour of
the gorgeous property. At the end of the tour, the
Pope stopped at a golden telephone sitting on a
beautiful altar, and (with just a bit of pride in his
voice) announced to the TP: "This is our very special
telephone... it is a direct line to God, Himself."

The TP's eyes grew very wide, and respectfully he
asked the Pope "Your Holiness, may I use the phone to
call God?"

"Yes, my son," the Pope responded, "But it is a
pay-phone and I'm afraid that it will cost you quite a
bit. It will be 8 million Lira per minute."

Disappointed, the TP said "Oh, okay... nevermind."
After an awkward moment of silence, the Pope changed
the subject and the two religious leaders began
discussing other topics. Soon, it was time for the
TP to take his leave.

Later that week, the Pope began reflecting on how the
TP had been unable to make the call because he
couldn't pay the toll. Feeling very guilty for not
lending the poor Vaisnava sadhu some money, the Pope
decided to atone by visiting him in Vrindaban and
apologizing in person.

Arriving in Vrindaban, the Pope went straight to the
Krishna Balarama temple to apologize to the TP. When
he got there, he was shocked to see a golden telephone
-- very similar to the kind that was back at the
Vatican -- on the temple's altar.

"Ah, Your Holiness, welcome," said the gracious TP,
"As you can see, we borrowed your good idea and got
ourselves a phone like the one that you have at the
Vatican. Its great!"

Surprised (and a little humbled) the Pope, asked
"Well, I'm going to have to speak with God Himself
about this. May I use your phone?"

"Sure," the TP responded, "But this one is a payphone
too. You'll have to pay 25 paisa for the call."

Now the Pope was shcoked! "25 paisa to speak with the
Supreme Lord?!" he exclaimed, "Why so cheap?"

With a smile, the TP answered "Oh, for us, its just a
local call!"



... after the Pope got off the phone, a Gujurati
brahmacari went up to the altar and -- without putting
a single paisa in the slot -- began to dial the phone.
"Hey Prabhu," the TP cried out, "To speak with
Krishna, you can use the phone but you have to at
least pay the 25 paisa."

The brahmacari thought about it for a moment, and then
his eyes lit up with an idea.

"I'll call collect."



What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?

Two days ago, on a sudden inspiration, I started re-reading one of my favorite books, Memories by Satsvarupa das Goswami. Its amazing... an honest, bittersweet, struggling, comforting, challenging, collection of insights into a sadhaka's world, seen through the lens of his remembrances.

In a chapter where Sdg remembers listening to Coltrane's "A Love Supreme", he ponders the criticism that may arise from sharing such an apparently "mundane" memory:
When a practicing devotee asks the inevitable question: "What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" there are different ways to answer. We can be stern: "It has nothing to do with Krishna consciousness. It is maya and should therefore not be discussed." Or we can answer in another way: "Exactly. What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" Does the music have an inner form? Does it sing of an incoherent expression of love of God? That very question -- "What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness?" -- can become a search and a cry.
I've asked this question before. And as much as I've tried to rationalize it or explain it away by citing a busy schedule, the truth is that this same doubt -- What does this have to do with Krishna consciousness? -- has caused me to fall off the blogging wagon.

Thank you Sdg, for daring to suggest that we can answer that question in another way. Thank you to all those who have dared to risk being labeled a "deviant" by asking that question in their own lives.

Like them, I want very much to let it become a search and a cry.


Thursdays are for Bhakti Club

Today is Thursday, which means that for most of the day my consciousness is absorbed in the Rutgers Bhakti Club, our program to share the treasure of Bhakti Yoga with students at the largest university in New Jersey. Its funny, actually, because Thursdays used to be the day that Krsangi and I offered deity seva at the temple. A few months ago, we found that it was too much and that we needed some "time off" so we asked to be excused from our seva. At the time I thought it was an arrangement for us to calm our schedule down a bit; I see now, though, that Krishna had other plans. Krsangi and I hooked up with some empowered devotee students at Rutgers who were enthusiastic to start a club... and here we are.

So now Thursdays are for Bhakti Club.

When he heard, our friend Damodar half-joked that Lord Caitanya is making sure that we serve Him one way or another. "You guys don't want to dress or feed Me anymore? Okay, then go out and do some sankirtana, instead!"

Anyway, since today is Thursday and all, I thought I'd share a piece of writing I posted up on the new Rutgers Bhakti Club blog. Hope you like it...

Clearing Your Mind

After our last Bhakti Club lab on mantra meditation (which was awesome, by the way --- many thanks to those who joined us and took the plunge), a student asked me about clearing the mind. After all, she reasoned, isn't that what meditation is supposed to be all about?

My answer: yes and no.

If by clearing the mind, we mean turning it off, emptying it out, and becoming devoid of all thought... then no. First of all, it is nearly impossible to truthfully do; we usually end up thinking awfully hard about not thinking (quick -- don't think of a purple elephant!). Secondly, it is unnatural and, well, boring. Honestly... would you rather sit still and stare at a blank wall or watch the latest episode of Lost? Because the self is hard-wired to be active (to be, to love, to serve), the mind's got to do something. Starving it now will probably just cause it to freak out later.

Bhakti Yoga teaches that the mind can be positively engaged by focusing on the sacred sounds of the mantra. The great Bhakti mystic Sri Chaitanya wrote:

Chanting the Divine Names
allows one to clear away the dust
that is covering the mirror of the mind.

This is what we mean by clearing the mind. Right now, we peer into the mirror of our minds, but there is so much dust gathered there that we can't see much of anything else. A good mirror isn't one that is empty or reflects back nothingness; a good mirror is one which is clean and allows us to see ourselves as we are.

Mantra meditation is one practice that helps us to do some badly needed spring cleaning (from the inside out) by clearing away the layers of ignorance, selfishness, and materialism that prevent us from seeing our own potential and the beauty of the creation around us.

When we can do that, we will will be able to peer into the mirror of the mind, and see -- perhaps for the first time -- the true Self.

~ V.


"All monotheistic religions..."

A devotee forwarded this news item about Saudi King Abdullah's call for interfaith dialogue to me, wondering if there were a place for devotees of Krishna (Vaisnavas) at such a dialogue. It doesn't seem like it.

Despite the Saudi monarch's noble intentions to bring members of different faiths together, it seems that he may fallen prey to a common misconception, rooted in ignorance or stereotype: that only Judaism, Christianity, and Islam are "the monotheistic religions." The article says that the "Saudi king has made an impassioned plea for dialogue among Muslims, Christians and Jews" and quotes Abdullah as saying:

"The idea is to ask representatives of all monotheistic religions to sit together with their brothers in faith and sincerity to all religions as we all believe in the same God."

It is true that Judaism, Christianity, and Islam share common roots in Abraham, and it is true that they have been traditionally associated with a fierce (and sometimes violent) defence of monotheism among polytheistic neighbors. But because they are monotheists does not mean that they are the monotheists. Followers of the Vaisnava tradition (including ISKCON members) are staunchly monotheistic.

Of course, we can't really blame King Abdullah; even among the media, scholars, and interfaith advocates -- folks who ought to know better --the old "the three monotheistic faiths" line rears its ugly head from time to time.

So what can Eastern monotheists do to set the record straight?

Well for one thing, we need to gently (but firmly) educate those who may be unaware of monotheism east of Palestine. That means working proactively with other faith groups and writing in non-abrasive letters correcting reporters who got it wrong (and appreciating those who got it right).

For another, we must recognize that definitions are not set in stone and that perceptions can be changed. To do that, devotees of ISKCON (and other specific denominational Vaisnava institutions) may need to broaden their scope and re-connect with their identity as Hindu

Some devotees cringe at the use of the term, offering standard "Srila Prabhupada said we are not Hindus" reasoning to justify their stance. (See this presentation by Gauri Dasa for a more balanced view of Prabhupada's feelings on identifying and not identifying with Hinduism).

Scholars already agree that Vaisnavism is numerically the largest denomination within Hinduism. The fact of the matter is, if Vaisnavas want to help to shape how "Hinduism" is defined and understood (and not misunderstood), we have to be willing to reclaim our Hindu identity. If we want to be players on the world stage, those are the rules of the game that we need to accept.

King Abdullah is not likely to extend his plea to dialogue with a handful of Hare Krishnas, but he might find it difficult to ignore the united and articulate voices of Vaisnava Hindus.


like rabbits at His lotus feet

The great Vaisnava saint Parasara Bhattar* was told the story of a hunter in the forest who had caught a rabbit. The hunter was about to kill it, but it kept circling around him and it finally placed its head at the hunter's feet. The hunter's heart melted, and rather than kill it he offered it protection.

When Parasara Bhattar heard this, tears began to flow from his eyes, his hairs stood on end, and he fell unconscious. Seeing these ecstatic symptoms, his disciples became filled with wonder. They revived their illustrious master and asked him to explain why he had fainted. In a voice choked with transcendental emotion, the Acarya explained:

"The hunter was a low caste brutal person, and he had given no instructions and made no promises. The rabbit was a simple animal who studied no scriptures and performed no sadhana. Still, when the rabbit sought shelter at the feet of the hunter, he could not refuse. How much more fortunate then are we that the Lord has explicitly instructed us to surrender to Him and that He has promised us that He will protect us from all sinful reaction? Just see how merciful the Lord is! If even a common and lowly hunter will protect a creature that takes shelter of his feet, how can we possibly doubt that our Lord will take care of us if we take shelter at His lotus feet!"

Thinking of His beloved Lord in this way, Parasara Bhattar experienced ecstasy.

* = Parasara Bhattar was the divinely conceived son of the South Indian Vaisnava saints Kuresh and Andal and was personally installed as the next Acarya of the Sri Vaisnava Sampradaya by Sripad Ramaunjacarya.


On Blogging: "To Blog or Not to Blog..."

Madhavi said whatever happened to your New Year's resolution to get back to blogging?

So here I am (again).

Oh come on, stop rolling your eyes. Stranger things have happened. :-)